Jamie xx can do no wrong. No wrong, I tell ya. He’s the production mastermind behind The xx, he redefined Gil Scott-Heron, helped to bring steel drums back as an acceptable instrument in pop, his Radiohead remixes were top drawer and now this; a stellar remix of Four Tet’s “Lion”, from his recent album Pink. It’s a drowsy, hazy reworking, subtle and minimal, but at the same time has all the soul and groove of a much more extroverted track. Late-night listening at its very best.
Yep, it’s that time again. It feel concurrently like 2011’s Mercury Prize ceremony occurred both just yesterday and aeons ago, but it’s been a year since PJ Harvey picked up the prize for Let England Shake, becoming the first artist to win the prize twice. That album was the expected winner from pre-nomination hype to the second before the envelope opened, but this year there doesn’t seem to be much of a clear-cut front runner. We’ll take a look at who could and should get nominated… (as a reminder, only British and Irish albums released between 12th July 2011 and 11th September 2012 qualify for nomination)
The Mercury panel rather like their token selections, resulting in the handful of jazz, classical and fringe nominations every year (hello there Gwilym Simcock). They also love to throw a massive seller or two in the mix as well (hello there Adele’s 21), so you can expect Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials and Ed Sheeran’s + on the final list, and with her ubiquitousness at both Olympic ceremonies this summer, it’s highly likely Emeli Sande’s name will pop up somewhere. Kate Bush’s Fifty Names For Snow fills the veteran and comeback criteria, so would be a decent bet for nomination if not victory, if there are any gamblers out there. Its connection with its parent film of the same name, as well as its prescience could earn Plan B’s iLL Manors a nod; selecting a socially-concious “state of the nation” record would certainly give the Mercury a dollop of relevance.
It’ll certainly be a crime to see Laura Marling left off this year’s shortlist. Her third album A Creature I Don’t Know was one of the highlights of 2011 and Marling’s strongest album to date. The same could be said of both Los Campesinos!’s Hello Sadness and Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything by (unsurprisingly) Johnny Foreigner; both were hailed as the bands’ best albums so far by fans and critics alike (apart from one notorious downmarket magazine) and are certainly deserving of nomination. However it’s unlikely either will appear on the final list, purely because it’s rare to see an album of this breed of indie rock nominated by Mercury. More straightforward indie albums like The Cribs’ In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull, The Maccabees’ Given To The Wild, The Vaccines’ Come Of Age or The Futureheads’ Rant! are far more likely to pop up on the shortlist, though whether they’re deserving is another question (The Cribs and The Maccabees probably don’t, The Vaccines’ album has only been out a week, so it’s hard to tell, The Futureheads might get a nod for the bravery and quirk of releasing an acapella album).
Judged on early hype, Alt-J seem to be most people’s choice for An Awesome Wave, although that may just be through sparsity of a top-tier, clear-cut winner. The Cambridge quartet do seem like standard Mercury fare, like Everything Everything last year, but it’s hard to see them winning the whole shebang. The same goes for a fair few potential nominees released in 2012; Django Django, The Twilight Sad, Islet, Bloc Party, 2:54, Pulled Apart By Horses, Richard Hawley, Hot Chip, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. Seeing any of those names amongst the nominees would be expected (although choosing Bloc Party for Four would be baffling), but it’s hard to see how they’d win.
When it comes to choosing a winner, only two albums stick out for us. Jessie Ware’s debut album Devotion has received near-universal praise from all quarters, finally giving us a British popstar who’s not boring as all hell who also has several bucketloads of talent. To be quite honest, she deserves nominating for “110%” alone. Our other pick would have to be The xx’s sublime Coexist. Following up their Mercury-winning self-titled debut was always going to be a challenge, but they seem to have pulled it off with aplomb. Eleven perfect songs that retain the band’s style but advances their sound, Coexist is very likely a contender for album of the year and only just sneaks into the list of possible nominations, being released on the last eligible day. Should Coexist win the prize, the London three-piece will be the first group to win the Mercury twice; an astonishing feat considering this is only their second album, where as Radiohead are still waiting for their first win, after 15 years and six nominations.
So there you have it, a brief guide to what to expect when the official nominations are released next Wednesday. Who do you think deserves to win?
LISTEN/// THE XX - ANGELS
Yes! The xx, one of the finest British bands of the decade, are soon to release their second album Coexist, and we finally get to hear the first proper fruits of the record. A demo version of “Open Eyes” appeared earlier in the year, but this is the real thing; “Angels” is the London threesome cementing their sound whilst pushing it forward. It’s also what’s often known as a “babymaker” of a track. The fragile, echoing guitars remain along with the crystal clear production, courtesy of Jamie xx, but Romy Madley-Croft sounds so much more confident in her voice (both in terms of songwriting and singing) and the beat is oddly brilliant.
First we got news of Bloc Party’s comeback album arriving in August, and now we’re getting the new album from The xx this year too! In a mailout to those signed up to their mailing list, the London three piece said:
WE’RE SO EXCITED TO SHARE WITH YOU THE NEWS THAT OUR SECOND RECORD ‘COEXIST’ WILL BE RELEASED ON SEPTEMBER 10TH. AFTER A LONG TIME ON THE ROAD, WE TOOK A BREAK, CREATED OUR OWN STUDIO AND WROTE THESE NEW SONGS THAT WE’RE SO LOOKING FORWARD TO PLAYING TO YOU. WE WILL BE TOURING THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER AND BEYOND, AND HOPE TO PLAY SOMEWHERE NEAR YOU SOON. XX THE XX
No tracklisting confirmed as yet, but a beautiful demo of “Open Eyes” appeared online on Christmas Day last year, giving an idea of what Coexist might sound like. The Mercury Prize winners have also been regularly updating their Tumblr soundboard over the last year or so with influences and inspirations for the recording sessions.
LISTEN/// THE XX - SHELTER (BEAT CULTURE REMIX)
Anyone hoping for new material from The xx is going to be waiting a little while longer, as there’s been very little news on their sophmore album, but to tide us over here’s precocious dub supremo Beat Culture with an excellent remix of “Shelter”. It’s euphoric and balearic in all the right places, almost like if Burial decided to start to make tracks for Ibiza instead of Islington. Get on in
Exciting Christmas Day for you music lovers, innit? Black-clad, Mercury Prize-winning, R&B influenced three piece The xx are currently holed up in the studio bashing out their second album, the follow up to their near-perfect debut, XX. “Open Eyes” is the first we’ve heard from the sessions, and by the sounds of things, album number two is going to be even more minimalist. Stripped back to just a guitar and Romy Madley-Croft’s voice, the track is utterly stunning and beautiful. Get excited right about now.
LISTEN /// JAMIE XX PREVIEWS RADIOHEAD REMIX
The beatmaster behind the Mercury winning The xx, Jamie xx is contributing a remix of “Bloom” to Radiohead’s King Of Limbs upcoming remix LP (released October 10th). Possibly the most intriguing reworking to feature on the album, Jamie dropped a sneak preview at the end of his Radio One Essential Mix the other night. The entire mix is great, touching on tracks from War, James Blake, Orbital, the late great Gil Scott Heron and even a nice sample of the also-late, also-great Amy Winhouse. But for you impatient Radiohead nuts, skip to the very end to hear the “Bloom” remix.